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Believe it or not, the Addams Family is one of America’s most prestigious comic strip adaptations. The macabre family has been around for almost a century, and the members are about to haunt a new animated film, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, with designs based on the earliest incarnations of each character. Here's the full secret history of the Addams Family.
[Image Credit: MGM]
The characters were originally created by freelance cartoonist Charles "Chas" Addams, for a series of "The New Yorker" cartoon panels in 1938. At the time, the figures didn't even have names. But Chas was just as attached to them as audiences were; his first wife, who he met in 1942, reportedly looked like the slinky and darkly seductive Morticia Addams. (The couple later divorced, and Addams' second wife looked even more like Morticia!)
In 1962, TV producer David Levy was looking for the next big thing. He spotted a collection of cartoons by Addams. It didn’t take Levy long to track down the cartoonist, and he pitched the idea of creating a TV series. Addams and Levy worked together to flesh out the characters Addams had been sketching for years, and they eventually got the greenlight for a pilot with ABC.
[Image Credit: Filmways Syndication Sales / MGM]
With the TV series came names and full personalities for each of the characters. It is impossible to overstate the contributions of cast members like Carolyn Jones, John Astin and Jackie Coogan. They helped turn simple sketches into full characters with complex personalities. There was also a catchy theme song by Vic Mizzy, who also wrote the "Green Acres" theme. That song helped establish the idea of the Addams Family, with those adjectives we still use today: creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky.
The series launched in 1964 and ran for two seasons, earning solid ratings. (At the same time, CBS ran a very similar show, "The Munsters," which basically fused the Addams Family with Universal Monsters.) Hilariously, "The New Yorker" stopped publishing Addams Family cartoons while the TV series was running, because magazine editor William Shawn wanted to maintain the publication's image by avoiding association with popular TV shows. Decades later, after Shawn retired, the Family appeared in "New Yorker" pages once more.
Animation kept the family going for almost 30 years after the original TV series ceased production. The characters appeared in an episode of "The New Scooby Doo Movies" in 1972, and huge fan response led to the macabre household getting its own new cartoon series on TV. In 1977, NBC produced a TV movie reuniting the 1960s cast.
The Addams Family mostly slumbered through the ‘80s. They showed up in reruns and there were a few minor stabs at reviving the crew, such as "Fester's Quest," an ill-fated and notoriously difficult game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Nothing quite took off, and the age of the Addams Family appeared to be over.
[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures / MGM]
And then came the ‘90s, and a resurgence of interest in America’s favorite spooky family. The 1991 ADDAMS FAMILY movie turned the blackly comic crew into a spectacular supernatural brand. Once again, great actors — in this case, Anjelica Huston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez, Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci as Morticia, and Jimmy Workman as Pugsley — helped elevate the characters. The funny, visually energetic movie was a monster hit. Suddenly Addams Family licensing became a big deal – as proven by, of all things, a pinball game. The Addams Family pinball game was a record-breaker, and became the best-selling pinball machine of all time. That meant it was in arcades and pizza shops and bars all around the country, which kept Addams interest alive.
Two seasons of a new animated series followed, with John Astin returning to voice Gomez. (He was joined by Rip Taylor, Carol Channing, Jim Cummings, Debi Derryberry, Jeannie Ellas, and Pat Fraley.) This show was the first to really try to match the look of original Charles Addams cartoons. But it was overshadowed by the feature film versions, especially when the sequel, ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES, arrived in 1993. Other projects, such as a direct to video movie (ADDAMS FAMILY REUNION) and new TV series ("The New Addams Family") helped keep the characters going.
Now the Addams Family is back! SAUSAGE PARTY directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan have created a computer-animated remake inspired by the original cartoon designs dating all the way back to 1938. The voice cast includes Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, and Allison Janney. THE ADDAMS FAMILY is due out on October 11, and will follow the strange heroes as they move to New Jersey and face off against the reality of 21st century life. It’s a smart way of updating a classic concept for the present day – no doubt Charles Addams would be proud.
All images courtesy of MGM.
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